Every night as the girls are settling into bed, the routine is familiar. Mariah climbs to the top bunk, and Ambria claims the bottom bed, while Ashlyn sits on my lap. We turn down the lights, turn on the fan, and of course, the night light. And from the shadows they ask, “Will you tell us a story?”
The stories have varied from bed-time readings through the Children’s bible, or impromptu-makebelieveonthespot stories about Billy the Bear and his ninja sidekick, Timmy the Turtle.
But lately they insist on a story from my own childhood experiences… The sit up in their beds and lean in to hear the hilarious details of my unfortunate adolescence. How awkward and humiliating were those middle-school years? The legend of my Great Aunt Hazel – whom lived with us when I was in high school, and at 96 years of age she enjoyed dementia, requiring a re-introduction every morning.
I could tell them stories of getting lost in the woods, and the panic attacks when I could not find my way home… The setting sun, and the wonder if I would ever see my eighth birthday. I avoid the painful memories of my grandfather calling my dad a failure as we all sat at the kitchen table. I dare not explain to them the wretched tales of getting beat up physically and spiritually in the basement of the Bible Baptist Temple, about how the Fehler boys used to beat me up after Sunday school, and my teacher used to psychological torture me with heretical notions of a God who hates me.
Instead I tell them stories about a mother’s love, and how she endlessly served the full house. I can’t remember a time she was able to enjoy a hot meal, because by the time she sat down to eat her food was cold, and we were finished. And nobody seemed to notice her exhaustion… until now. I tell them stories about my dad who used to take us camping in the winter blizzards, and our home-schooling allowed for the freedom of schedule to go sledding down the Sugar Bowl hills behind Lake Harbor Park. I choose to tell them stories of hilarity and sentimentality, of the time a burglar broke into our home on Christmas Eve and stole all of the gifts under the tree… And the time the neighbors came together to make sure we had plenty of toys to unwrap.
And we have a tradition. If ever in a crowded room, to mouth the words “Olive Juice” to each other, and from a distance the lips read – “I love you”. And in the morning as they walk out to the long school bus waiting at the edge of the driveway, Jamie has taught them to repeat the phrase: “CHOOSE JOY!”
Because at the end of the day, it’s a choice. You can choose to live in the darkness of the past, or the light of the future sunlight. You can dwell on the negative stories that shape your life, or you can focus on the ones that make you laugh, as you reminisce on good friends, and the love of family. You can choose pessimism, that’s easy. Or you can choose joy.